The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra had some fun when four trumpeters, all under 30, took their places in the rehearsal room late Tuesday night.
“These are young lions!” shouted baritone saxophonist Paul Nedzela, referring to the circle of stylishly dressed, traditionally minded bop novices who grew up during the Reagan and Clinton reigns, moving jazz towards a concert art with a classical repertoire. …
Here they laughed.
“We tried it in the 90s,” said bassist Carlos Henriquez.
Soon, Vinton Marsalis, once the pride of those young lions, called the group to order from his place in the trumpet section, and the orchestra flashed Windjammers, a Marsalis plate set up to showcase a quartet of guest trumpets, some of whom were students. … Four rearranged bars, breaks and sometimes expressions of surprise, as if they couldn’t believe they were — to borrow a title from Marsalis’s own repertoire — in this house this morning.
Occasion: The beginning of the 34th concert season of Jazz at Lincoln Center and the first performance of the Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City after closing due to the Covid-19 coronavirus. This season will be a tribute to Chiku Corea, who died in February; celebration of the centenary of Charles Mingus; and three concerts featuring prominent singers, Diane Reeves, Catherine Russell and Cecile McLeurin Salwan.
Excitement about reopening pulsed through the group. “I will be amazed looking at our audience and feeling this energy,” said Ted Nash, saxophonist and composer. “We did all these virtual things, but to create together a sound field and an energy field in person, where all sounds merge together – that’s why I do it.”
Marsalis was quick to say that he did not name the weekend’s concerts – “Winton at 60” – which mark his new status as a sixty-year-old musician with a program of his originals over four decades.
Nevertheless, despite his warm, even gentle demeanor, there was no doubt that he was in charge, announcing the order of soloists in rehearsals or small changes in the charts. But when the soloist sometimes asked how to approach this or that section, he answered: “Just do what you all want.” Or: “You are the one playing this.”
The freedom within the structure, of course, separates jazz at Lincoln Center from other major performing arts venues with a repertoire. It’s the same with Marsalis’ tradition of inviting young musicians to play on their largest stage, the Theater of the Roses at Columbus Circle.
“It shows how generations work together,” he said. “When we started the orchestra, the surviving members of Duke Ellington’s orchestra played. Marcus Belgrave played with Ray Charles. Sir Roland Hannah played with the Tad Jones and Mel Lewis Orchestra. Jerry Dodge and Frank Wess played with Basie. They conveyed to us a lot of the feeling of music, its essence and meaning. So this is a sequel. “
Chris Crenshaw, trombonist, composer and arranger who has been with the orchestra since 2006, said: “We have a charge. We have a responsibility. In all traditions, there is so much that is passed down from generation to generation orally or with the help of music. “
The responsibilities that come with working as the artistic director and public face of a large art organization mean that for Marsalis, the stop was never a real stop. He pulled out his phone and flipped through dozens of photos with pages of scores for upcoming projects (tuba concerto, bassoon piece).
The band’s versions have toured the United States and around the world, undergoing endless Covid-19 tests and frequently playing music from his politically-minded Democracy! Suite, which boasts song titles such as Sloganize, Patronize, Realize, Revolutionize (Black Lives Matters). Live streaming of concerts, both from repository and fresh, have been plentiful and will continue – any concert this season can be streamed for a $ 10 donation.
The work helps deflect losses that have increased since March 2020, including from musician father Marsalis, Ellis, his friend and mentor critic Stanley Crouch, and more musicians than any institution could fully immortalize. “I try not to linger,” he said. “My father said,“ Everyone loses people. And when you focus too much on your own … ”He let that thought slip away and then remembered what pianist John Lewis had once told him. “Too much attention even to something negative is a form of deep ego.”
“You have to keep moving forward, stay productive and try to create the world you imagine,” added Marsalis.
At 60, Marsalis won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Blood in the Fields., ” in his oratorio on slavery, he sees a world in which democracy itself is threatened, and “the intellectual class still always wants the black man to be a fool at all levels.” However, his humanism supports him. “You can undermine the constitution and make it difficult for people to vote, make it difficult for the government to work,” he said. “But there are always voices that defend the integrity of a document that can be changed – it is not set in stone.”
He quickly returned to the topic on which he most often causes controversy. “The music is the same. You can be agile enough to undermine its integrity and succeed. But there are always enough voices who believe in his honesty. “
In his opinion, these young trumpeters are among those voices. The Jazz at Lincoln Center mission has always focused on educating and promoting jazz, and Wynton at 60’s guest artists – Summer Camargo, Giveton Gelin, Tatum Greenblatt and Anthony Hervey – demonstrate the power of this approach.
Camargo got the attention of Marsalis when her high school in South Florida entered the annual Essential Ellington competition, which invites school groups to enroll by playing Duke Ellington’s free charts and then invites finalists to New York to perform. Now a student at Juilliard, Camargo said she would never have attempted to compose music if it hadn’t been for a competition in which she won awards for both composition and solo in 2018.
“When people ask me what was one of the best days of your life, I always go back to that moment,” she said. “Vinton took me backstage and gave me compliments and advice. He doesn’t sugarcoat it – he tells you what you need to do to get better. “
Gelin, a recent Juilliard alumnus who self-released his debut album, also praised Marsalis’ generosity as mentor and practical advice. Coming to New York from the Bahamas while in high school, Gelin attended a free concert by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in Queens, then made his way through the line to meet Marsalis. The next day, Gelin played for him in his house and was surprised that such a famous figure put so much energy into convincing the child to go deeper into the development of his own voice.
“I spent a lot of time in the Haitian church,” Gelin said. “One of the first things Winton told me was to listen carefully to the local singers and how their vocal skills reflect their origins.”
Marsalis nodded when reminded of this meeting. “Your sound will be organic when you are not fighting who you want to be,” he said.
On Thursday night’s premiere, four promising artists were given the opportunity to perform on stage. The orchestra’s 90-minute setting featured some of Marsalis’s most beloved compositions, including big band axes, ballads and piercing curiosities marked by his love of musical onomatopoeia, with muted horns reminiscent of the buzzing of bees and the shrill whistle of trains.
The 15-piece ensemble performed The Holy Spirit from Marsalis ‘Abyssinian Mass, and he performed an invigorating, unamplified solo on a quartet adaptation of Gordon Jenkins’ Goodbye, which he dedicated to “all people who have lost someone and have not said goodbye to them “.
But the crowd’s most violent response came shortly after the young trumpeters took the stage. Camargo’s bold opening solo lifted fans to their feet and inspired her hero Marsalis to think, “She doesn’t play at all.”
The joyous cry of the four bell ringers brought down the house. Marsalis called their presence “my birthday present,” but their performances suggested it wasn’t just a gift for him.